Re: Why Johnny Can’t Figure Out Which End of the Hammer to Hold

Mark: It’s all very well saying, as commentators do, that parents should step up and teach kids this stuff, but parents are fighting a strong cultural headwind there … while trying to make a living in a postindustrial economy that leaves them all too little free time. (If the answer is: “Then don’t have kids,” it’s an answer too many people have already figured out: hence the cratering First World fertility rates that you have written so eloquently about.)

As I recall, previous generations of young men didn’t spend Saturday mornings tinkering with cars in the driveway because they’d seen their Dad do it; they did it because their friends & older schoolfellows did it. In child development, unless you’re in a hut on the lone prairie, it’s an ounce of parenting to a pound of peer group pressure.

Also, as commenters have pointed out, tinkering is much harder nowadays. I could do all the basics on my 1960s and 1970s cars — filters, fluids, shocks, even a tune-up. Bodywork dents? Bondo! (Still in business?Yes!) I wouldn’t know where to look on a present-day car, and half the bodywork doesn’t dent, it splinters.

We do our best. My daughter is a keen, fast, and expert knitter. It’s no mean skill, whatever Dr. Johnson thought. My son does well at school woodworking, and has helped me with small household projects.

Mechanically, however, our youth is lost. Couple of years ago I happened to look out of my kitchen window up the driveway to our garage, which was open. My son was standing in there with two of his coevals — three bright, healthy, suburban mid-teen boys. They were standing around a bicycle looking lost. I went out to see what was up.

They wanted to take the front wheel off the bicycle, but couldn’t figure out how, in spite of the fact that one of them was holding the correct-size wrench in his hand!

I sprang the brakes, removed the holding nut, and slid the front wheel out of its fork. They looked at me as if I’d split the atom.

There are some valiant warriors fighting to keep basic mechanical skills alive. Here’s one, and here’s another. It’s a rearguard action, though. The owl of Minerva takes flight at dusk.

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